BBC challenges ex-Post Office lawyer in Australia

The Post Office’s most senior in-house lawyer when it fought the landmark case brought by Alan Bates and other sub-postmasters has been challenged by BBC News in Australia, after she refused to appear before the public inquiry into the Horizon scandal.

A BBC team questioned Jane MacLeod, who was the Post Office’s general counsel between 2015 and 2019, while she was walking her dog outside her home in Sydney.

She replied with “no comment” when asked why she wasn’t attending. She had been due to give evidence this week.

“It’s unsurprising, but it speaks volumes,” says Jo Hamilton, one of the wrongly convicted former sub-postmasters. “If she was determined to help the inquiry, she’d be there,” she added.

'An important witness'

Born in Australia, Jane MacLeod returned to live there in 2020.

Last month Sir Wyn Williams, chair of the Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry, revealed that while Ms MacLeod had submitted a witness statement, she had decided not to give oral evidence, despite being asked to do so.

The inquiry heard that the reason, offered by Ms MacLeod’s lawyers, was that given the passage of time, she considered her written statement was the best evidence she could offer.

Since then, Ms MacLeod has not responded to BBC requests for comment.

Sir Wyn said that even before seeing her written evidence, he’d decided that Ms MacLeod was “an important witness” from whom he wished to hear in person.

He added that despite the offer to have her travel and accommodation expenses covered, Ms MacLeod “has made it clear that she will not co-operate with the inquiry by providing oral evidence”, either in person or via video-link.

However, Sir Wyn explained that his options to force her to attend were limited because she lived abroad.

Under the Inquiries Act 2005, witnesses can be legally compelled to give evidence – but this only applies to UK nationals.

In her written statement to the inquiry, Ms MacLeod says: “I am very aware that the decisions in which I was involved during my time at Post Office Limited regarding the group litigation and the investigation of Horizon's performance and robustness have had implications for many sub-postmasters and their families.”

She adds: “I regret that this has happened and apologise to those so affected for the adverse outcomes they have suffered.”

'Completely wrong'

Jane MacLeod was the general counsel at the Post Office covering the period when it fought sub-postmasters in court in the landmark litigation led by Alan Bates.

Giving evidence last month, the former boss of the Post Office, Paula Vennells named Jane MacLeod as one of the senior executives she had trusted to give her information – when asked by Sam Stein KC to list those who had let her down.

Ms Vennells also recounted asking Ms MacLeod why they were proceeding with the court case against sub-postmasters, which she said had felt “completely wrong”.

She told the inquiry that, after first suggesting the Post Office would most likely settle the cases, Ms MacLeod’s view had been that the court case was “the only way to solve this”.

Earlier this year, a BBC investigation revealed documents showing the Post Office had evidence in 2017 that losses could be due to errors in the Horizon IT system or remote tampering.

In March, in response to the story, Jane MacLeod gave a statement to the BBC saying that she supported the ongoing public inquiry into the Post Office scandal and was assisting it.